Interview with Diego Oka Executive Chef at La Mar
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In Miami with the acclaimed cuisine of chef Diego Oka, La Mar, by Gaston Acurio offers diners the opportunity to explore the authentic and diverse flavors of Peruvian gastronomy. With a combination of indoor and outdoor seating and a lively bar atmosphere overlooking Biscayne Bay and the skyline of this great city. The restaurant's contemporary design provides the perfect backdrop for La Mar's signature ceviches, freshly grilled anticuchos and specialty cocktails. The perfect combination; the best views of Miami with the best dishes in the area.
Here is an extraordinary interview with Chef Diego Oka, who is the Executive Chef of La Mar restaurant in Miami.
¿How is the work dynamic at La Mar Miami?
The work dynamic here is like in all others La Mar restaurants we all work as one team. Community, support and working together is the most important thing here. A clear example of this are my colleagues who have been by my side since the opening, 9 years ago. We are like a family.
The community, friendship and commitment to the restaurant is a reflection of the whole team behind it doing their best every day.
¿When do you know a dish is ready?
It's a very unique thing for a chef to have the knowledge to know when a dish is ready, the taste of what you're creating and when it's ready to go out to the public. My dad is an artist, a painter, and ever since I was a kid I asked him that same question, how do you know when you finish a painting, when it's ready? And he always told me “It's never ready”, because something can always change, it's up to you and to every artist individually to decide what's done and what's not. That's how it's perfect for the one who makes it. It's the same as in the kitchen, you can always go on, the path is infinite but you as a creator or chef decide that it's finished because this is how you like it.
¿Talking about food and the bar, how are you pairing these two things, do you work with your bartender or sommelier?
These are two different areas, and we have super talented people in both of them, and we work together but we are always trying new things. Our bar team gives it to us to try, it doesn't mean that we have to approve them as cooks or chefs, we just have to like them. Our pairing process happens more with wines, the purchase of the right ones is very important.
¿Do you buy wine in the US or globally?
We have a very extensive wine list and we work with wines from all over the world.
¿How do you lead the team?
We have kitchen leaders, otherwise we won't move forward, but it is always a team effort, I am in charge of the restaurant. We always discuss and give our opinions as a team, that's the advantage of working together for many years, they know me, they know what I like and what I don't like. The time we all put into each dish working together is reflected in the food we create and our customers' feedback.
¿How do you decide on products and suppliers, since La Mar exists in various parts of the world, how do you manage to have the same quality in La Mar Lima and in Miami?
We don't try to be the same. Each place has its own personality, although the base is the same because we are Peruvian; we all work with seafood products. And apart from there each chef adapts his dishes to the restaurant and the city. We use a base of Peruvian products,this is our base line, however Gastón gives us a lot of freedom when it comes to creativity and that's great.
Is it difficult in the chef industry when you are young? Is it a long process to establish your own name in this industry?
If you are young it's because you lack experience, but whether you are treated well or badly is more a question of attitude. It's all about being able to gain the trust of those who know best and use it to grow your knowledge and experience. It's a learning process.
In Gastón's group there is a lot of support, from managers, administrators and the whole team of the corporation, also from Gastón, and so it makes it much easier to take on a leadership position. When I took over as leader, it was incredible, the team already knew me and I had all their support. A year later I went to Mexico then Colombia and San Francisco locations. Here in Miami I have been for 9 years now.
How did you feel when Peruvian gastronomy exploded? Today Peruvian food is leading the table in the world?
An incredible buzz, I have been lucky enough to work side by side with the person who made it all possible, one of the pioneers and the spearhead for Peru to be recognised worldwide, and that is Gastón. We have lived hand in hand with him and we have seen over the years how it has evolved and grown, and how it will continue to do so.
¿Do you have a dish to recommend from La Mar Menu?
There could be several dishes but our ceviche is one of the best dishes in the restaurant. Although we just changed the menu a fortnight ago so you should come and try the new flavours.
¿Why do people visiting Miami have to come to La Mar?
First of all because it's a super fun place, you can eat good food and of the best quality. It has one of the best views in Miami and you really get to try things that you can try only here.
Acclaimed Chef Diego Oka began his studies as a cook in Peru, his first job was at the age of 18 where his daily activity was in a motel, buttering bread. Some time later, he got his first job in a Japanese restaurant and after that, he met Gastón Acurio, with whom he currently works. Together with him, he worked his way up to the position of Executive Chef at La Mar.
He has not yet thought about the end of his career, although he does not usually set very fixed objectives, he feels that if he likes what he is doing, it is because he is on the right track. He finds all the places where he has worked charming and he emphasizes that he has always met good people.
Today he lives in Miami with his wife and children, which makes Miami all the more special for him. A city in constant evolution and one of the best in the United States.